I spent the week before the “surprise” release of Drake and Future’s collaborative mixtape What A Time To Be Alive much the way I did the week preceding the similarly unorthodox drop of Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late—which is to say, I stayed up very late, drinking a lot, refreshing anticipation threads on the KanyeToThe message board, not unlike Linus waiting on The Great Pumpkin. While the IYRTITL came seemingly out of nowhere, we had a real early warning system for WATTBA, with Aubrey debuting it live on his Apple Music OVO Sound Radio show. It’s hard to deny the majestic elation of an artist this big creating a shared moment so exciting, despite the obvious premeditation behind it. For about two hours, I was perhaps the most ecstatic I’ve been all year.
Then I ran back the unedited version of the mixtape for the rest of the night. Expectations cooled. Opinions rejiggered. Hype having subsided, there’s a lot to ponder about these eleven tracks.
When Kanye and Jay-Z united for Watch The Throne, they spent a lot of time stunting aspirationally, offering up their combined success as a monument to human ingenuity, but that was only part of it. They also exhibited some disturbing paranoia, and pondered the quality of life they would soon pass onto their then theoretical progeny. Kings don’t just measure crown sizes when they conspire. They confess the kind of deep seated turmoil mere subjects might not be able to identify with. Similarly, Future (fresh off the success of DS2) and Drake (on the eve of the most pivotal album release of his career, Views From The 6) employ sports metaphors and money talk as a preamble for some complex, tag team introspection.
You should just make your peace now with hearing the raucous, spirit lifting bombast of tracks like “Big Rings” and “Jumpman” at every social function for the next few months. Also, don’t be surprised at seeing the diamond emoji paired with various “me and my squad” tinged lyrics from the tape beneath every group selfie on Instagram through the fall. With two of music’s hottest artists forming like Voltron, there’s bound to be a celebratory aura around the project, but there’s a pervasive darkness poisoning the platinum heart of WATTBA that sticks with you more than any of the anthemic club declarations. You would think that Drake would take the cake here if the menu is all about emotions, but here he’s bested in every conceivable way.
Sure, Drake maintains the upper hand in terms of pure clout (it’s his thermonuclear popularity that’s going to propel this thing to a gold plaque in a week’s time), but Future steals the show at every turn. The dichotomy between their dual approaches to the genre calls to mind the infamous interview that allegedly got Future temporarily booted off of Drake’s “Would You Like A Tour?” tour back in 2013. At that time, Future shaded Nothing Was The Same by saying Drake had hits, but that the album didn’t make listeners feel the way Future’s own music did. He was 100% correct. In a lot of ways, Drake is like mid-90s Shawn Michaels, an undeniable talent whose relentless calculation sullies any connection he makes with his fans. Future’s more like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. There’s something (forgive the pun) Honest about the way he presents himself that makes his relevance organic and less forced. On tracks like “Live From The Gutter,” Future finds new ways to obliquely address his struggles with drug addiction and savagery that dwarf any amount of hurt bitterness Drake can muster (even with the latter’s beyond-petty outro on standout cut “Diamonds Dancing”).
I know them tears still fallin’ down on my last bitch
The money made me hungry I’m a savage
I’ve seen stars lining up you couldn’t imagine
I watched my broad give up on me like I’m average
I went back inside the attic count it up and started laughing, ha
– Future, on “Live From The Gutter”
While his syrupy hook delivery on the spare, stuttery drum programming of “Change Locations” is pleasant enough, Drake sounds the most at home on closing solo track “30 For 30 Freestyle,” produced by his right hand man Noah “40” Shebib. It’s a mood that suits the 6 God so much more than the rest of the tape’s (reliably incredible) Metro Boomin production. Over plinking piano keys fading like champagne bubbles rising in a chilled flute, Drake pours his heart out about the loneliness of his throne and the anxiety that comes with it.
The pen is working if you niggas need some ghost lines
I thought you wanted yours like I want mine
I guess you just making moves on your own time
But just know it’ll be January in no time
And your absence is very concerning
It’s like you went on vacation with no plan of returning
Shit is purely for sport, I need it 30 for 30
Banners are ready in case we need to retire your jersey
– Drake, on “30 For 30 Freestyle”
He mourns a lack of competition (are these shots at ‘Ye?), feeling perhaps a smidge too cocky after his unnecessary evisceration of Meek Mill at OVO Fest, completely, it would be appear, unaware of Future the next lane over, lapping him with relative ease. This isn’t much more than a pit stop for either man, but Future more than asserts himself as the man of the moment here, while Drake, extending himself too far out of his comfort zone, exposes himself to future downfall.
We’ve still got the make or break Views on the way and Future allegedly has another solo tape up his sleeve before the year is out, so the next few months in hip hop will be ones to keep an eye on. Watching these two titans temporarily align to climb the ropes and hoist the titles up in the air has been fun, but I think we’re all a lot more excited about the eventual break up and the ensuing main event run. Who’ll come out on top? My money’s on the man with the dreads.
Drake & Future’s What A Time To Be Alive is on sale on iTunes and (thanks to Jimmy Iovine and The Ghost of Steve Jobs) streaming exclusively on Apple Music